Seven days, 2,230 miles and one hurricane: Leigh Timmis sets one week mileage world record

British ultra-rider survives the worst that Florida can throw at him to set a new mark in one of cycling's toughest challenges

Seven day record
Timmis (centre) with his team
(Image credit: Jack Hague)

Seven-day record rider Leigh Timmis went to Florida for the weather – and weather was what he got. The Derby ultra-rider endured the three-day Hurricane Nicole in the middle of his week-long attempt, but even so he managed to scrape through to record a new Guinness World Record of 2,230 miles. It was 19 miles further than the previous mark, set by Latvian Arvis Sprude in the summer.

Timmis, who already holds the record for cycling across Europe, and his team looked at a variety of possible locations for the attempt. They decided that Florida – and more specifically Highway 41 between Miami on the east coast and Naples on the west coast – was ideal.

"There's this perfect kind of cocktail… " Timmis says. "You're looking for zero elevation on the road, which this road's got, a great surface, no junctions, so there's nothing to slow down that average speed. And then, of course, a reliable climate, which we hadn't been able to find in the UK or anywhere else."

Timmis and his team had spent a year planning the event, thoroughly and scientifically. As far as they were concerned, all the bases were covered.

"Everything had been so scientifically and rigorously tested," Timmis says, "even down to the acclimation sessions at Loughborough University. I was in the climate chamber for a month before. We knew what we were looking at, and it was going to blow this out of the water, it was going to be an incredible result."

With only three hurricanes having hit Florida in November since 1851, it wasn't something that even came into the equation. "There was no chance of it," Timmis says. "You would never have thought it."

Strong start

The first day or two seemed to confirm that things were on track, with 555 kilometres ridden on day one. Riding 15 hours a day on his Trek time trial bike, Timmis broke his riding down into five-hour blocks with a 30-minute break between each.

"I got off the bike, sat down, did any physio I needed to, and ate something a bit more real than just sports nutrition," he says. "On the first break of day two the team said, we need you to sit down, we've got some news for you. They said, there's a hurricane coming. I thought it was a joke."

"At that point everything changed," he says. "We went from having this very controlled project that had been put together so scientifically to OK, now it's not about doing that. Now it's about just breaking the record."

Hurricane Nicole struck the following day and Timmis was forced to do battle with gusty and wildly fluctuating wind, and heavy rain.

"You'd get these patches of rain that were intense. The rain's coming down at you, it's coming up off the road, all the grit's getting thrown up off the back wheel, you're getting incredibly uncomfortable," he says. "And then you've cycled through that, and out the other side it'd be 37 degrees and you'd start to burn."

The team, which included physiologist Sally Carter, physio Dan Smith, mechanic Christian Aucote and media man Jack Hague, was excellent, says Timmis, helping to keep him, and the record, on track.

"They brought their whole background, they brought their own personality, their skill to it, and adapted basically hour by hour," he says.

seven day record

Timmis en route to the new record

(Image credit: Jack Hague)

All or nothing

Despite the tough moments, Timmis was determined to keep going come what may, he said.

"In my mind I was like, 'There's no way you're stopping me pushing these pedals, because I can't go back to sponsors and ask for another however many thousand pounds, I can't come out here again, you know? I'd put everything into this."

The worst of the hurricane lasted three days, and by day five, he was exhausted, Timmis recalls. Beginning the day into a strong headwind it took him six hours to ride the first 100 miles. His morale had taken a battering.

"I remember turning around to the team after that, and going 'guys, I've just done the maths. And if this is all I've got, there's no way we're going to break the record."

But with the encouragement of his team, he kept on going, and at around 4am on the final morning – just 90 minutes before time was up on the attempt, Timmis passed the record distance. After stopping to take in what he says was an amazing moment with his team, he saddled up for the final push.

"I remember getting back on the bike and it was like watching Bambi take those first steps, it was horrible…" he says. "And it was literally find the easiest gear I've got and get the bike moving."

He managed end what had been an incredibly challenging and intense week by adding a further 19 miles to the record.

Timmis is an ambassador for mental charity MQ, which he was raising money for through the attempt.

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After cutting his teeth on local and national newspapers, James began at Cycling Weekly as a sub-editor in 2000 when the current office was literally all fields. 

Eventually becoming chief sub-editor, in 2016 he switched to the job of full-time writer, and covers news, racing and features.

A lifelong cyclist and cycling fan, James's racing days (and most of his fitness) are now behind him. But he still rides regularly, both on the road and on the gravelly stuff.